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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, June 1971

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Vol. XXVII, No. 2, June 1971

Jean F. Gravelle


IN A trunkful of books stored in the attic of his family home in Brighton, Monroe County, New York, Mr. James Edmunds discovered a hand stitched, letter bound collection of manuscript songs written in the hand of his grandfather, another James Edmunds in a long line by that name. Being a Professor of English and Folklore at the State University College of Brockport, Mr. Edmunds knew that the manuscript would be of interest to other folklorists, so made a careful transcription of all the songs it contained.

The land on which the Edmunds home stands has been in the family since 1816, when it was purchased by Eliphalet Edmunds, a native of Providence, Rhode Island. Eliphalet was one of the twelve children of James Edmunds and his wife Abigail, who, in 1775, when Eliphalet was eleven years old, began the migration of the family toward the western frontier, a migration which took the family to Clarendon, Vermont, to Franklin County, New Yark, to Lewis County, Jefferson County, and, finally, in 1824, eight years after the purchase of the property, to the town of Brighton, Monroe County.

Eliphalet’s grandson, James K. Polk Edmunds, born December 29, 1844, was the one who wrote down the songs in the manuscript. When he was between nineteen and twenty-one years of age James Edmunds recorded many of his favorite songs in his personal songster. Since he did not serve in the Civil War, the songs were not learned on the battlefield, though some of them are Civil War songs.

The manuscript itself is in a small, brown leather notebook with lined pages. Although the stitching is loose, the pages have been well preserved, and the handwriting, like lovely Copperplate, is quite legible. James Edmunds, the present owner of the manuscript, was able to identify the handwriting readily from other samples of his grandfather’s writing. The pages are numbered, but begin with page 63. The first 62 pages may have contained additional songs or other material, perhaps records of farm business, but they are missing. Some of the songs are written in pencil. Fortunately, from the view-point of the editor, they are repeated later in ink. They are presented here in the order of their first appearance....

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